For the second time this summer and the first time ever in August, two films grossed over $40 million on the same weekend. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (Paramount) opened over expectations at $65 million, while Marvel’s "Guardians of the Galaxy" (Buena Vista) dropped a reasonable 56%. Last summer four films opened at over $40-million mark, three on one weekend.
So the Top Ten total of $169 million marks a healthy jump from $137 million in 2013. This reduces the lag from last year to 5.5%, but still keeps the to-date total lower than all years from 2009 on. "Guardians"’ ten-day total of $176 million, despite the waning days of summer, could yield a projected best of 2014 domestic total.
Three other films opened to varying results. "Into the Storm" (Warner Bros.) grossed $18 million, but with a $50 million initial cost, that will barely break even if it has a decent hold and strong foreign returns. With its $11-million launch in 2,000 theaters, DreamWorks’ more modest $22-million "The Hundred-Foot Journey" (Buena Vista) earned a strong A Cinemascore. The food movie has a promising future, jumping 17% Saturday from Friday, while "Storm" dropped 3%.
"Step Up All In" (Lionsgate), the fifth entry in this urban dance series, grossed only $6.5 million, far less than the $11.7 million to $20.6 million scored by the previous films. (The recent films were budgeted at over $30 million.)
Three other holdovers dropped under 50% (led by "Lucy" from Universal). Universal suffered the weekend’s biggest disappointment: James Brown biopic "Get On Up" failed to find traction after its lackluster opening. It dropped a steep 63% for a mediocre eighth place showing.
The Top Ten Chart
- "Teenage Mutant Ninja Warriors" (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 33; Est. cost: $125 million $65,000,000 in 3,845 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $16,905,000; Cumulative: $65,000,000
- "Guardians of the Galaxy" (Buena Vista) Week 2; Last weekend #1 $41,531,000 (-56%) in 4,088 theaters (+8); PSA: $10,159,000; Cumulative: $175,922,000
- "Into the Storm" (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 44; Est. cost: $50 million $18,015,000 in 3,434 theaters; PSA: $5,246; Cumulative: $18,015,000
- "The Hundred-Foot Journey" (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 55; Est. cost: $22 million $11,123,000 in 2,023 theaters; PSA: $5,498; Cumulative: $11,123,000
- "Lucy" (Universal) Week 3 – Last weekend #2 $9,311,000 (-43%) in 3,147 theaters (-55); PSA: $2,965; Cumulative: $97,354,000
- "Step Up All In" (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire; B+; Metacritic: 47; Est. cost: Not reported $6,575,000 in 2,072 theaters; PSA: $3,173; Cumulative: $6,575,000
- "Hercules" (Paramount) Week 3 – Last weekend #4 $5,700,000 (-48%) in 2,896 theaters (-699); PSA: $1,968; Cumulative: $63,461,000
- "Get On Up" (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #3 $5,012,000 (-63%) in 2,469 theaters (+1); PSA: $2,030; Cumulative: $22,927,000
- "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (20th Century Fox) Week 5 – Last weekend #5 $4,400,000 (-49%) in 2,306 theaters (-977); PSA: $1,908; Cumulative: $197,834,000
- "Planes: Fire and Rescue" (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last weekend #6 $2,419,000 (-60%) in 2,280 theaters (-961); PSA: $1,061; Cumulative: $52,950,000
The boys are back in town
One reasons for the summer box office drop-off is the decline of young male interest in new movies. While several films with female leads have placed unexpectedly high among the season’s hits, most of the tent-pole entries seem to have lagged behind what they might have reached in previous summers, due to decreased attendance from males.
Who countered this trend? Despite his low marks from critics and tastemakers, Michael Bay saved the day, first with "Transformers: Age of Extinction" (which lagged behind other films in the series domestically, but has now notched over $1 billion worldwide). Then his production of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" also scored a bull’s-eye, proving yet again that Bay’s the go-to filmmaker for male eyeballs. Paramount reported that on "Teenage Mutant"’s first day the audience skewed 61% male and 55% 25 and older, with many boyhood fans of the series returning to revisit their youth. (And Bay also cast "Transformers"original Megan Fox in a lead role.) "Turtles" is even bigger now than its first go-round in 1990 — its first weekend gross adjusted to 2014 dollars would have been $48 million on its way to ending up fifth place for its year.
Throw in the surprising hold for "Hercules" with The Rock, a reliable action star. Though this expensive production has some distance to go before breaking even (it is up to $135 million worldwide), its $63 million domestic total so far is ahead of what appeared to be its destiny when it opened two weeks ago. And of course all Marvel films, including "Guardians," draw among males of all ages, though the company has thrived by appealing to females as well.
What’s this – a female director?
At this point in 2014, about 75 films have played in over 1,000 theaters. This week marks only the second ("Step Up All In") directed by a woman, musical choreographer Trish Sie. (The first was "Endless Love," directed by Shana Feste.) Even animated features — an area where women directors have scored, including "Frozen"’s Jennifer Lee) – have all been directed by men this year.
It’s hard to say what is the bigger outrage — that less than 3% statistic or that nothing seems to change. This year has seen an increase in grosses for many films with actresses as the main draw. They need to start insisting on some improvement in this situation. (There does seem to be a move toward female superheroes, at long last.)
Lasse comes home
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom returned to his native Sweden in 2012 to make "The Hypnotist," his first film there after coming to America 25 years ago after his breakout success with "My Life As a Dog." Since then he’s become the go-to director for high-end, mainstream, star-driven films that appeal to older moviegoers. Though he had some success in recent years with younger romantic dramas ("Safe Haven" and "Dear John), his biggest successes were Miramax’s Oscar contenders "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat." "The Hundred-Foot Journey" opened in just over 2,000 screens, making its $11 million gross (including a decent Saturday bump) look better than its #4 position. More impressive still was that audiences flocked to theaters despite middling reviews (it scored 55 on Metacritic). With Helen Mirren in the lead and a restaurant rivalry in small-town France as the concept, Hallstrom delivered the goods. The film still needs to show it can sustain a lengthy run, but is positioned to sustain better than average holds and become a mild success.
Paramount continues to thrive with less
In George Cukor’s "Pat and Mike," Spencer Tracy said of Katherine Hepburn’s character "there isn’t much meat on her but what there is cherce!" That could be said of Paramount’s limited release schedule, which again this year has seen fewer releases than the other studios, but mostly major success. With six releases this year so far (not counting late 2013 initial limited release "Labor Day’), five have passed over $50 million, with three including "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" opening to over $40 million. One did not gross $50 million but cost under $20 million, while another, the low-budget "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," was profitable. Of the studio’s nine 2013 releases, all but one grossed approximately $50 million or more, with six over $100 million domestically.
This continues the trend of studios banking on high and low end budgets with nothing in the middle. In Paramount’s case the strategy seems to be working. This leaves the indie sector to pick up the slack.
Also of note
Two high-end specialized releases fell just short of the Top Ten, with "The Most Wanted Man" (Roadside Attractions) falling to #12 and "Boyhood" (IFC) at #13. Also opening limited was "James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge 3D" (DisruptiveLA) which played at 304 theaters for a weak $150,900. The lack of 3D screens–which have to accommodate several wide-release studio hits– seems to have taken its toll, but even with them it would seem this scientific explorer tale carried limited appeal. These and other more limited releases are analyzed in my specialty box office report.
Rob Reiner’s "And So It Goes" (Clarius) after two weekends in the Top Ten also took a hit in the crowded marketplace, falling to #14 with $1,251,000 and a total of $13.3 million.